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  • Writer's pictureJoia

Today's rhaps is from ... the attic office of the Institute for Semiotic Studies

[The purpose of working in Bloomington IN during the year 1979-1980 was to fund a trip to China. True, we would get only as far as San Francisco the next summer, but we didn’t know that yet. J. was Assistant Slavic Department Chair for an administrator unwilling to execute the administrative duties of an administrator, and I was Coordinator of the (first and only, as far as I know) Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics. I swear, if there had been anything other than an old typewriter upstairs in the university's Institute of Semiotic Studies, where I kept busy writing whatever came to mind in between compiling entries for the encyclopedia, fighting off the grotesque demands of the institute director, and corresponding with the internationally scattered potential authors and distinguished board of directors—which included Umberto Eco, God rest his semiotic soul, before he wrote his famous novels—I would have written in/on that. Even right here as a rhaps, had it been available to me. For some reason all the photos I took in January 1979, the month spent in Greece, were lost. This poem remained. The Didion-Dostoevsky-Kafka piece was born of a lonely brain imagining friends, even if they didn’t like me. Smoothies came from my delight in having met a Soulmate. The computer art is from 2014, though the sketches came earlier.]

Caryatids, Acropolis of Athens

The Virgin

she stands white and glowing

flowing through the wind and rocks


astro traveller

caught by her shapeless invisibility

her negation of desire

her black hole

her unnerving absence of energy

her deathlike smile

the smile of an arrogant rose

blown to bits by the cold spears

whirling around her

smiling allknowing


the union of all opposites

the cancellation of existence

in that

Greek stone smile

that Reims angel smile

was she born a virgin?

pink and sprawling

crawling out

from Woman

she was already ashamed

she waited

she was painted blue and red

until the centuries wore her white and classic

until her eyes were

marble smooth

and clear

until her smile was


on her face

Athens, 1979

Wolf Night, c. 2014

Apocalypse (in the morning)

Joan Didion sits on a low bench in the corner of the room. It’s dark and at first I don’t see the figure sitting next to her. He is the Man from the Underground. They are quietly chatting and don’t appear to notice me. I walk up and sit next to them. Didion is talking about her abortion in low mumbling tones and the Underground Man is slowly nodding his head, then shaking it, then nodding again. At one point he gets up and walks to the other side of the room, looks at the door, then shrugs his shoulders and comes back. This is when he sees me. I don’t like you, he says. Fine, fine, I answer. Then he sits down again. Didion starts to cry. Shut the fuck up, I say to her.

There’s a huge explosion and the walls shake and the door slams shut. We look at each other and then all, as if on cue, shut our eyes. Later there is smoke in the room and an odd odor. The Underground Man jumps up and starts shrieking “I don’t believe it—we survived it! Of all the people on this planet!”

“Cockroaches,” I say.

“Of course, cockroaches. That was the whole point!”

Didion starts to giggle. She says she’s pregnant.

“More cockroaches.”

“We’ll call him Franz.”

“Got a cigarette?”

I light the cigarette. The entire room glows orange for a long instant. We three glisten like black deep sea divers, our eyes bright white and hollow.

Bloomington, IN, 1980

Imaginary Architecture I & II



should go smoothly

they should slide

melt, merge, connect

the next phrase rising

as the handshake loosens

a throaty little chuckle

cuts the eye gaze short

but there are thousands

millions of us

sprinkled out throughout

the smoothies

hiding, peering out

from funny corners

who never learned the

art of sliding

smoothly through exchanges

every word is loud and clammy

every look recorded clearly

memories are piled


layered thoughts

poke through the surface

of our pockmarked veneer

we swallow hard

we fidget fingers

we smirk and smudge

our faces silly

the smoothies slide

around us

and continue

with finesse

while we bump

and blush

into each other—


you one too?

I bet I could be

smooth too

with you.

Bloomington, IN, 1980

19 OCTOBER 2018

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